Monday, March 23, 2009

Altpick Spotlight Article

While David Morris admits it isn't easy to describe his photography, he's coined a phrase that does: "Urban Grit." The Kansas City-based photographer isn't content with taking a simple photograph of a person. Through digital imaging he adds a gritty, illustrative look that gives his subjects a distinct appearance - one that in some ways complements his irreverent humor.
Although David is well known for his food photography, his "Urban Grit"- style of photographing everyday people in their own photographic reality is starting to take off. A number of companies have recently hired him to produce projects in his unique manner. For an international herbicide corporation's campaign, David needed to capture the image of a farmer standing in his field. Through digital imaging he manipulated the scene, adding multiple elements that gave a startling, 3-D-like appearance to the final image.
Throughout his career, David has been privileged to work on projects with many leading international agencies; most recently: Tyson Foods, Kellogg's, DuPont, Ford Motor Co., Campbell's Soup, Sprint, the Bayer Corp., LaSalle Bank, Simmons, and Captain D's. He was the past vice-president of the American Society of Media Professionals-Midwest, and has served on the board and is a current member of the Advertising Photographers of America-Midwest.
David's latest endeavor is overseeing the construction of his 6,000 square foot dream studio in the Crossroads District of Kansas City. With more than 60 galleries and restaurants, the district has been dubbed by USA Today as one of the country's top three art meccas outside of New York. David spoke to altpick from his studio in Kansas City.
What sparked your interest in photography?
My mom was an army nurse during World War II and the Korean War, and while she served, she took photographs of her experiences abroad and sent them back to the family. Years later, when she would pull out those images, it was fun to see the past through her eyes and an entire era that was long gone. I felt like I was there and a part of her life at that time. She gave me her old Minolta camera, and I just started taking pictures with it as a hobby. Eventually, friends began to tell me I had great stuff and should go to school to become a photographer. Because photography was a hobby at the time, I really hadn't considered it. I was going to go to college to be a landscape architect. But once I realized that I had allergies really bad, and that wasn't going to work as a career, I began to look more seriously at photography.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in commercial photography?
I didn't really have anything particular in mind when I started. My goal was to become a fine art photographer, and it wasn't until after interning for commercial photographers that I picked up the desire to go in that direction. I just love to photograph, it doesn't matter what it is.
What do you look for when you are shooting?
It's different all of the time. Different things inspire me, and certain points in life trigger different visual responses. The one thing that I look for, however, is something to catch my eye: a beautiful landscape, an interesting person, or unique architecture. There is no one thing I focus on. I just make certain to keep my eyes open and my senses aware of the surroundings. No matter what it is, it has to have a certain inner perspective.
What is the most challenging aspect during a photo shoot?
Time. When you're working with an advertising agency or shooting corporate photography, it always seems to be time. Both are fast-paced environments, and everyone's in a hurry. With the need for fast-paced, cost-effective photography, you sometimes don't have time to study your surroundings or get to know the people you're shooting as well as you'd like. I know that it's a reality of the business, so that's where I like to think my 19 years of experience comes in to play. I'm constantly sharpening my skills so I can catch the great shot or moment.
How do you get to know a model or subject when pressed for time?
Whenever possible, we try to bring on additional staff or assistants who can get everything done for the shoot. This gives me the opportunity to get to know the person and get to know what the art director is looking for. It also gives me the chance to scope out the set, figure out the good shots, etc. The ideal shoot allows you plenty of time to set up the shot while having time with your client or model, which allows you to get to know them and their personalities.
What do you enjoy shooting when not working?
After 19 years in the business, I have the privilege of working on projects I know I will enjoy or I think will challenge my creativity. It always shows up in the work. I still have a soft spot for shooting landscapes in black and white. There's nothing like getting lost in your surroundings, not worrying where you are, and being intoxicated by the visuals that are out there - the ones that catch your heart and your eye. You just have a good time. There have been times that I have gone out by myself or with fellow photographers, and we didn't take a single photo. But we had a great time. You just go looking for those situations where you enjoy the fresh air, the freedom of lack of worry or concerns, and just enjoy the visuals.
Does everyone have a photographic eye?
No, not everyone has an eye for photography. I am of the philosophy that you either have it or you don't. If you have some skill, it can be refined. But that's the way it is with every skill-set. Some people are great at mathematics and engineering, others aren't. Even if I tried to hone in on those skills, I know I still wouldn't be great.
How has your approach to photography changed over the years?
Originally, I focused on fine art, black and white photography, and as I became more interested in commercial photography, I began refining those skills. Throughout most of my career, I have been primarily known for my food photography, mainly because I have targeted that market. However, over the last four or five years, I have become more recognized for the work I've done with people, which has caused me to primarily use digital photography. Digital photography allows me to express myself in a way that film didn't allow. It has led to rethinking how one goes through the photography process. You can take an image of a landscape one day and incorporate a model, who you shot across the country, the next day. Images I had in my mind years ago, but didn't have the technical skills to achieve, are finally being realized. That's how my 'Urban Grit' style came to fruition, and I am finally able to achieve that look and feel in-house.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
Life in general inspires me. I have a journal that I keep with me and write down ideas that pop into my mind. Sometimes good ideas come daily and sometimes less. I also pay close attention to today's visual style. You can't help but be influenced by other photographers.
Who are some of your favorite artists and photographers?
Walker Evans and Irving Penn are two classic, phenomenal artists in their era and even today. In terms of more contemporary artists and photographers, there are all kinds of people who have inspired or influenced me - everyone from my assistant to whatever is on the local newsstand. Although I'm influenced by many things, I try to stay true to my personal vision.
What do you see as the future for photography?
Photography in general will continue to evolve and change as it has throughout the profession's history. The effects of digital imaging, historical events such as September 11th, and the influx of stock, have all influenced the market and will continue to do so. I feel there are fewer good photographic jobs in the marketplace, along with tighter budgets and more competition. These aren't bad things. They're just a part of an ever-changing market. And that's part of the challenge. It's what drives me and keeps me energized. If it was always the same, it'd be boring.

 Contributed by Joshua Dysart

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